Rice flour, sugar, and instant yeast are the only three ingredients you need to prepare this classic Chinese steamed rice cake (bai tang gao), and a steamer!
It must have been more than a decade since I last sink my teeth into a piece of 白糖糕 bai tang gao - steamed rice cake. Since both sets of my grandparents are Cantonese, I grew up eating tons of this soft and chewy cake.
It looks so simple, but believe me, getting that just right texture can be super tricky. Case in point, no one in my family ever attempts this cake and just buy some from the neighborhood shop when the craving hits.
Of course, living halfway across the globe means I have no access to the said trusty shop. But at last, I have managed to recreate this favorite childhood cake of mine :)
What you need to prepare bai tang gao (Chinese steamed rice cake)
Turns out, you only need three ingredients to make a bai tang gao:
- rice flour (Note: I always use the one from Erawan brand, if you use another brand, proceed at your own risk)
- instant yeast, you can use active yeast too but instant is easier
How to prepare the batter for bai tang gao (Chinese steamed rice cake)
I have a detailed step-by-step photo that I hope is sufficient to show the visuals of what you can expect the bai tang gao batter should look like.
- First, mix 250 gram of rice flour with 150 ml room temperature water into clumps.
- Boil 150 gram sugar with 370 ml water in a small saucepot. Once all the sugar dissolves, pour this to the clumpy rice flour mix from step 1. Whisk into a smooth batter.
- Wait for the batter to cool until only warm to touch. If you want to be precise like me, you can use a thermometer and it should read 38 Celsius (100 Fahrenheit). Also, you want to preheat the oven to 75 Celsius (170 Fahrenheit) at this point.
- Add the instant yeast to the batter and whisk to mix. Cover the mixing bowl with a saran wrap, then rest in the preheated oven. Immediately turn off the oven heat, and rest the batter for 40 minutes.
At the end of the resting time, you should see that the batter has many air bubbles, which indicates that the yeast is doing its job and we should be getting the desired cake texture. If you don’t see the air bubbles, your yeast is either dead or expired, and unfortunately, there is no point to continue cooking the cake since it will 100% fail.
Can I use active dry yeast instead of instant yeast?
If all you have in your pantry is active dry yeast, you can use that too. But we will need to modify some of our steps above.
- Step 1: no change.
- Step 2: instead of boiling 150 gram sugar with 370 ml water, use only 150 gram water with 350 ml water.
- Step 3: no change.
- Step 4: mix 20 ml warm water (38 Celsius/100 Fahrenheit) with the active dry yeast and wait until foamy (usually about 5-10 minutes). Then add to the warm batter (not hot! preferably the batter is also 38 Celsius/100 Fahrenheit), and mix. The rest of the step is the same.
Same as the case with using instant yeast, your batter should have many air bubbles at the end of the resting period. From my own experience, when I use active dry yeast if at step 4 I don’t see any foam after 5-10 minutes from the time I mix the yeast with warm water, it is 100% guaranteed that my yeast has already expired and is completely useless.
Prepping the cake pan
Once your batter has finish resting and has produced many tiny air bubbles, let’s prep our cake pan. I use an 8"x2" round cake pan.
For a successful bai tang gao, you need to pour the batter into a hot pan, so be sure to preheat the pan. It doesn’t need to be scalding hot, but definitely hot enough so it won’t be comfortable to grab it with bare hands.
Brush the hot pan with oil, give the cake batter a final stir so everything is well mixed, then pour the cake batter, and steam.
Steamer pot and tips for a successful steamed rice cake
I hope you do realize before this step that you need a steamer to complete this recipe. After all, we are making a steamed cake, and it even says so in the title.
You can use any kind of steamer as long as it can fit an 8”x2” round cake pan. I prefer a stainless steel steamer for hygiene reasons. But you can use a bamboo steamer too, and you are more likely to get a better result with a bamboo steamer.
Create a makeshift steamer
There is no need to rush out and buy a steamer if you currently don’t have one at home. Instead, you can use this guide from Food52 to create a makeshift steamer.
Fill a large pot with about half an inch of boiling water. Use aluminum foil to make three balls of roughly equal size. Once we are ready to steam, rest the cake pan on top of the foil balls. Cover the pot and steam the cake. Of course, you need to make sure the pot is large enough to accommodate the aluminum foil balls and the cake pan.
Make sure to prevent water droplets fall onto the cake surface
Please make sure that there are no water droplets drop onto the surface of the cake. The steam that rises during the steaming process can condense and turn into water droplets that may fall onto the cake surface. If this happens, your cake may turn sticky and pudding-like instead of light and fluffy.
If you steam with a bamboo steamer and a bamboo cover, you shouldn’t encounter this problem. If your cover is made from metal or glass, please wrap with a piece of kitchen cloth so the cloth will trap the steam and prevent any water droplets from falling onto the cake surface.
And that’s all the tips that I have to prepare a successful bai tang gao (Chinese steamed cake). Enjoy!
白糖糕 Bai Tang Gao - Steamed Rice Cake
- 250 gram (8.8 oz) rice flour
- 150 ml (10 tablespoon) water
- 150 gram (3/4 cup) sugar
- 370 ml (1.5 cup + 1 tablespoon) water
- 5 gram (~ 1 teaspoon) instant yeast
- In a large mixing bowl, mix 250 gram rice flour with 150 ml water. It won't be smooth at this point, so don't worry.
- In a small saucepot, boil together 150 gram sugar with 370 ml water. Once all the sugar has dissolved and the water is boiling, pour this into the mixing bowl. Whisk until the rice flour mixture is smooth. Set aside to cool.
- Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 75 Celsius (170 Fahrenheit).
- Once the rice flour mixture reaches 38 Celsius (100 Fahrenheit), add the instant yeast, and whisk well to combine. Cover the mixing bowl with saran wrap.
- Hopefully, your oven has reached 75 Celsius (170 Fahrenheit) at this time. Turn off the oven, and place the covered mixing bowl in the warm oven and let the batter proof until the volume is roughly doubled, and you notice many small bubbles on the batter surface. This should take about 40 minutes.
- Prepare a steamer with about 1 inch of boiling water over medium-high heat. Heat an 8"x2" round cake pan until hot to touch. Brush the heated pan with oil, give the rice flour batter a final stir, then pour the batter into the pan.
- Steam for 15 minutes. Turn off heat, and let the cake sit in the hot steamer for another 10 minutes.
- Remove the cake from the steamer, and let it cool slightly in the pan over a wire rack for about 15 minutes.
- Once it is cool enough to handle, gently run a knife along the edges to loosen the cake from pan. Cover the pan with a plate, and flip the cake on to the plate. Then, flip again onto a wire rack to cool completely. Cut into 8 wedges, and serve at room temperature with some hot tea.